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The structure of Taliban’s cabinet and the future perspective

13 Sep 2021 - 13:28

Cabinet officials announced by the Taliban are all members of the group itself and, except for three of them, selected from the Pashtuns. This cabinet can be analyzed from different perspectives. One of the most important variables in the formation of this interim government is the share of the two important sub-branches of the Pashtun tribe, namely Ghilji and Durrani, as well as the share of the southern and eastern Taliban, which by studying their tendencies, we can understand the orientation of the Taliban government. The analysis of the cabinet members shows that, in addition to gaining a larger share, the Haqqani-centered eastern Taliban and the Ghiljis have managed to gain the security and military seats, which means the Durranis and the moderate Taliban will have a hard job to do.

By: Javid Hosseini 

Twenty years after the fall of the Taliban government, the United States and its allied government lost the war to the Taliban, and the group once again took the control of Afghanistan. This time, the Taliban formed their new government after capturing the entire geography of Afghanistan, and contrary to the promises made by the group's spokesmen and officials, the cabinet members have been selected based on the criteria of the 1996 Islamic Emirate. In the cabinet announced by the Taliban, there are a prime minister and 32 acting ministers and officials, and Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada will continue to play the role of the leader. This article will take a look at the structure of the government announced by the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s future outlook.

The Taliban's insistence on ideology
During the Doha talks, before the withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan and even before the announcement of the cabinet, the Taliban’s spokesmen and senior officials in Qatar political office were talking about an inclusive government in a way that it seemed the group has become more pragmatic. Although the gap between their words and deeds has become clear in the past two weeks, the structure of the government and cabinet members came as a surprise to many domestic and foreign observers, demonstrating the Taliban's ideological conviction.

The first point is that there is no woman in the cabinet. The Taliban formed the cabinet without the presence of women, just like the way they excluded them from society in 1996. The second point that shows the Taliban's insistence on their ideological rules is that the group formed the new government via appointment instead of holding an election. All the 33 members of the cabinet were "appointed by the Islamic Emirate" and thus, after 20 years, Afghanistan returned to the beginning point and election was omitted from the country’s political arena. The third point is the reinstatement of Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada in the leadership position. After the assassination of the former leader of the Taliban, Akhundzada was elected as the leader and Amir al-Mu'minin by "Ahl al-hal wa'l-aqd" (Those qualified to elect or depose a caliph on behalf of the Muslim community) and will hold this position in the new government. The issue of allegiance and servitude, which is one of the characteristics of this government, is not very pleasant for a significant part of the Afghan people.

The fourth point is about the structure of Afghanistan's political system. In this centralized structure, the caliph or Amir al-Mu'minin is on top of the power pyramid and based on the model of the Islamic governments of previous centuries, a person will take over the governorship on behalf of the caliph, for whom the Taliban chose the title of "prime minister." Therefore, Amir al-Mu'minin is at the top of the structure and the prime minister is obliged to obey him. In this system, there is no parliament and it is unlikely that such an entity emerges in the future, because it requires an election which does not match with the traditional and ideological characteristics of this government.
composition of the cabinet
In addition to the prime minister and his two deputies, the Taliban have introduced 19 acting ministries, 5 deputy ministers and 6 heads and deputies of political, security and financial institutions, which, according to the group's spokesman, are not yet completed. In this structure, the Ministry of Women has been removed from the government and the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has been re-established. Most of the figures are old and technocracy has no place in the cabinet.

Despite the fact that various countries, including China and Russia, made the issue of recognition, diplomatic relations and future aids subject to the formation of an inclusive government, we can see that the announced cabinet is not only inclusive but also consists of the members of a single group, the Taliban. In the new government, there are thirty-one Pashtuns, two Tajiks (Qari Fasihuddin, chief of army staff, and Qari Din Mohammad Hanif, acting economy minister) and one Uzbek (Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy of prime minister). Hazaras and other ethnic groups of Afghanistan have no share in the government. In other words, about 58 percent of Afghanistan's non-Pashtun population (there is disagreement on this statistic) hold 3 seats, and Pashtuns who consist 42 percent of the population have 31 seats in government. This composition and the number of seats allocated to the non-Pashtuns is a response to those who claim that the Taliban is not a mere Pashtun movement and that the group includes all ethnic groups. It can be said that each ethnic group has now won a seat in the government based on its share in the Taliban movement.

In addition to the ethnicity, the Taliban cabinet can also be examined in terms of the composition of the Pashtun subtribes. This study is important because the power struggle between the tribes and their approaches have an important role in the way of governing. The proportion of each of these tribes in power can determine the direction of the Taliban government. Therefore, we intend to briefly discuss the composition of this cabinet from the perspective of the Ghilji-Durrani Taliban as well as the eastern-southern Taliban.
The Ghilji-Durrani Taliban
Just as Afghanistan is the scene of the ethnic rivalry, it has witnessed the rivalry between the Pashtun tribes, especially the two important tribes of Ghilji and Durrani, and the current period is no exception. The Taliban’s first leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was from the Ghilji tribe, and after his death, the second leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was from the Durrani tribe. Akhtar Mansour's succession became controversial for various reasons, including hiding the death of Mullah Omar. But, one of the reasons behind the disagreements was that he was from the Durrani tribe. The fact that the leadership of this group was reached to the Durranis increased dissatisfactions. After Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike, various sources reported another dispute over choosing the leader, but again a Durrani, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzadeh, took over the leadership of the group. At that time, in order to resolve this Ghilji-Durrani dispute, two members of the Ghilji tribe (Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the Haqqani network, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar, were chosen as Akhundzadeh’s deputies.

After the fall of Kabul and during the negotiations over formation of the government, numerous reports about emergence of new disputes between the Taliban leaders were heard again. Although there is no evidence to support this claim, there are some signs in favor of it. It can be said that the most prominent and influential figure of the Durrani tribe within the Taliban is Abdul Ghani Baradar, and on the opposite faction, the Ghiljis, the most influential figures are Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqoob. All of these figures have considerable weight and credibility. Practically, the Ghiljis are not entirely but largely influenced by Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqoob, both of whom have led the war in the recent years, and their views, especially those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, are extremist. On the contrary, Mullah Baradar is willing to compromise and negotiate. Mullah Baradar not only has this tendency because of his presence in the Doha Office, but also the reason for his arrest in 2010 by the Pakistani security service was his tendency towards negotiation with the government of Hamid Karzai.

The differences between these two factions after the fall of Kabul can be found through the developments of the past weeks. After Ashraf Ghani escaped from Kabul, Haqqani forces entered the capital and the control of Kabul was passed to Khalil Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani's uncle, and Mullah Abdul-Rahman Mansour, another member of the Haqqani faction, was appointed as the governor of Kabul. Khalil Haqqani, seen in most pictures and meetings with an American weapon, visited many former politicians and made them swear an oath of allegiance to the Taliban government. The violence that have been reported in Kabul are often linked to the Haqqani forces. On the other hand, according to FazelMinallah Qazizai, Mullah Baradar also sent his own troops to Kabul to take the control of important centers, including the residences of former politicians and the parliament. Mullah Baradar was probably concerned about the extremism of the Haqqani faction. In this military-security rivalry, however, the Haqqani faction (the eastern Taliban) had the upper hand. Although, according to Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwari, Mullah Baradar's faction succeeded in ousting the governor of Kabul and replace him with one of Kandahar’s most influential commanders, Mullah Shirin, the Taliban remained in the control of the Ghilji faction, specifically the Haqqanis.

Another most obvious difference between Mullah Baradar and the Haqqani faction showed itself in the published images from meetings. While the Haqqani faction decorates its meetings with weapons and the white flag of the Islamic Emirate, Mullah Baradar used Afghanistan’s tricolor flag during a meeting with Martin Griffiths, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. This comes as the Haqqani forces collected the tricolor flags from across Kabul and beat those who were holding the flag on Afghanistan’s Independence Day. Given the position of Mullah Baradar, it is not far from the truth to say that he insists on maintaining or modifying some of Afghanistan's past achievements, while the opposite faction has an opposing view.
Prior to the formation of the cabinet, In general, the rivalry between the Ghilji-Durrani or the eastern-southern factions of the Taliban was dominated by the eastern one.

With this background, any dispute between the two factions over gaining more power in the cabinet would be natural. The share of these two tribes in the new cabinet is significant. According to the information available on news and analytical databases about cabinet members as well as the reports obtained by the Institute for East Strategic Studies (IESS), the share of each of the Durrani and Ghilji tribes in the cabinet is as follows:
The acting prime minister is Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund who is from the Durrani tribe. According to Indian researcher Praveen Swami, after some disputes over the higher executive power of the Taliban government and given that Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund had not any power base, the election of Hassan Akhund as prime minister put an end to the controversy at the top of the executive power pyramid. Another prominent figure from the Durrani tribe, as mentioned earlier, is Mullah Baradar, who has been elected acting deputy of prime minister. Amir Khan Muttaqi, acting minister of foreign affairs, Khairullah Khairkhwa, acting minister of information and culture, Mawlawi Abdul Hakim Sharie, acting minister of justice, and Mohammad Esa Akhund, acting minister for mines and petroleum, are also from the Durrani tribe.

The Ghljis, however, have a larger share in the cabinet: Sirajuddin Haqqani, acting minister of interior affairs, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, acting defense minister, Abdul Haq Wasiq, intelligence chief, Mullah Mohammad Fazil, acting deputy defense minister, Khalil-ur-Rahman Haqqani, acting minister for refugees, Zabihullah Mujahid, acting deputy minister for information and culture, Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor, acting minister for water and energy, Mullah Hamidullah Akhundzada, acting minister for aviation and transport, Mawlawi Noor Mohammad Saqib, acting minister for Hajj and religious affairs, Mullah Abdul Manan Omari, acting minister for public work, Noorullah Noori, acting minister for borders and tribal affairs.

The geographical share of the Taliban
In addition to the ethnic competition, geography is one of the foundations of competition in Afghanistan. Regardless of ethnicity, geographical affiliation has created rivalries even within an ethnic group. There is also geographical competition between the Tajiks, and the most important geographical division among the Pashtuns is the eastern-southern division. The words Loya Paktia and Loya Kandahar (Loya is a Pashto word meaning large), which include a collection of eastern and southern provinces, are a reflection of the Pashtuns’ geographical rivalry that dates back to a long time ago. There is also a kind of geographical division/competition among the Taliban.

During the war with the Afghan government and foreign troops, the Taliban had administratively divided Afghanistan's 34 provinces into southern and southeastern branches. The south included 14 provinces under the rule of Omar (The faction of Mullah Omar and Hibatullah Akhundzadeh) and the southeast included 20 provinces ruled by the Haqqanis (Abdul Sayed).
After the war ended and the Taliban began to distribute the seats of power, the geographical rivalries once again emerged and this is quite obvious in the composition of the cabinet. According to Ibraheem Bahiss, a consultant to the International Crisis Group, the new Taliban cabinet includes 15 people from Loya Kandahar, 10 from Loya Paktia, 5 from the east (two provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar) and 3 from northern Afghanistan.

As for the conclusion, it can be said the Giljis (the Haqqanis) have the upper hand in the cabinet. The important security and military seats are in the hands of the Ghiljis or their allies (Qari Fasihuddin, the Uzbek acting chief of army staff). Even where the group has not been able to gain an important ministry, like the Foreign Affairs Ministery, the deputy minister is from this tribe.
The scope of influence of the rivalries
There is an intertwined network of rivalries, some of which have been mentioned above, within the Taliban for power-sharing. Leaving the cabinet list open and emphasizing that the cabinet is not yet completed is probably a strategy to meet the potential challenges regarding power sharing.
Although there are complex and longstanding rivalries within the Taliban which now raging once again, these rivalries have never tarnished the united image of the Taliban, except in very few cases. Several disputes have been reported since the announcement of Mullah Omar's death, but these disputes have been well managed and, contrary to the opinion of some experts, the group's performance has been integrated in the face of new developments.

Now that a new chapter of life of the Taliban has begun, an omniscient power (whether inside or outside the group) has once again been able to resolve the differences and form a cabinet in a short period of time. It should not be forgotten that such differences could take several months to resolve under the leadership of Hamid Karzai or Ashraf Ghani, but the Taliban announced their cabinet less than two weeks after the unexpected capture of Kabul.
Given the Taliban's past experience, the group's internal rivalries and disputes will either be resolved or remain secret, and the differences will have no influence on the Taliban government's output.
Future Perspective
One of the most important questions for many Afghans and foreigners is about the future of Afghanistan. What will the Taliban do with this controversial establishment? This government will face both internal and external challenges in terms of legitimacy and recognition, which will have serious political and economic consequences for the Taliban government and the people of Afghanistan. If the Taliban fail to manage the economy alongside security, and sanctions begin once again, then the Taliban’s power will be in danger.
We can imagine two different perspectives for the future of Afghanistan:

Optimistic perspective
The Taliban were well aware that it was not in their best interest to form an exclusive government under the existing external and internal pressures, but for some reason they were forced to form such a government:
*Quenching the thirst of the extremists and warriors
*Justifying "jihad" through creation of an Islamic government
*Reviving the Islamic Emirate
The Taliban's deviation from the criteria that were previously given to the group's commanders and fighters to justify "jihad," might led to the departure of the group's extremists and fighters and their joining to the ISIK. Therefore, the Taliban took the risk and announced a cabinet that it knew would face widespread domestic and foreign backlash, but it was forced to do so for the reasons mentioned.

Since these threats will push the government, the Taliban and the fate of Afghanistan towards an unclear direction, the Taliban labeled the government as "temporary" or "interim" in order to be able to form another government with different criteria when necessary. The fact that the term of the interim government has not been announced is also a clever strategy; and this term can be short or long, depending on the pressures and behind-the-scenes consultations with the influential actors. But in any case, this group managed to establish an interim government for a while.

Therefore, the optimistic view is that the Taliban will act to form a government different from the Islamic Emirate, which will be based on the criteria accepted by the people and other ethnic groups of Afghanistan as well as the international community. Recently, the Taliban's deputy minister of information and culture told Al Jazeera that election would be definitely held in Afghanistan and that all Afghans would take part in it. It can vote in favor of this optimistic view.

But, it is important to mention two points. The first point is that the dominant power of the Taliban’s extremist faction in the political structure can be a challenge to this optimistic view, and the second point is that even if we see the formation of a new government with different criteria by the Taliban, no one should expect a big surprise and sudden changes. All the changes will be gentle and soft.

Pessimistic perspective
One of the characteristics of the Taliban has been their resistance against pressures. The group has refused to back down from its positions and values for the past 25 years, especially during their previous government. The Taliban’s failure to reach a deal with the United States over surrendering Osama bin Laden led to the collapse of their government. During the group's negotiations with the United States, the Taliban’s insistence on their positions repeatedly challenged the negotiations, and the party that always showed flexibility was the United States.

The extremist factions within the Taliban will strongly resist against any change or deviation from the declared positions during the war and will not allow the future government to fall out of the group's control or to adopt a different criterion under the foreign pressures. The extremist faction considers itself as the winner of the war and maintains that the others must obey its orders. Mullah Mohammad Fazil, a detainee released from Guantanamo and the Taliban's acting deputy defense minister, has recently made remarks close to the above-mentioned statements among the Taliban fighters.

The Taliban leaders will probably focus on relations with some of the regional countries to address the economic challenges posed by the western sanctions, and the western countries will also informally engage with the Taliban in order to be able to send their aid to the Afghan people.
From this perspective, the Taliban’s era in Afghanistan has begun and it is not limited to the interim government.
The experience of the past 25 years shows that neither the Taliban-style dogma nor the imported American version of democracy has managed to take Afghanistan to the shore of peace and will not. The country is at a historical juncture and can be guided from crisis towards peace. The story is not over yet, and the announcement of an interim government by the Taliban has left a glimmer of hope. By using this opportunity:

1. The Taliban must accept that it will not be able to provide Afghanistan with peace and security via this mono-ethnic structure, and it should use this opportunity to resume the negotiations for formation of an inclusive government.

2. The inclusiveness of the government should not mean repeating the bitter experience of the last 20 years, and the Taliban, with the help of the country’s elites, must define a structure that can be the basis of participation, not merely limited to the presence of individuals.

3. The unilateralism of the world powers as well as the regional countries in Afghanistan will not work and as we can see this was Washington’s unilateralism that returned Afghanistan to the point it was in 2001.

4. The foreign actors must convince the Taliban and other factions through legitimate means to resume the negotiations and form an inclusive government.

5. If the above 4 conditions are met and If the Taliban show flexibility, albeit gradually, Afghanistan will be able to solve its economic problems by using its economic and transit potentials and with the help of the regional countries and organizations. So, all countries and organizations in the region should abandon their strategy of conservatism and enter the field.
Javid Hosseiniis a member of the scientific council of the Institute for East Strategic Studies

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